This week our Torah portion covers Leviticus 21:1 to 24:23. The section is called “emor” which means “speak.”
The Bible moves from the sanctification of the people to the sanctification of time. The chapter lays out the appointed festivals, the rhythm that would sustain Jewish memory for the rest of time. The sacred calendar includes the Sabbath, Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the counting of the Omer, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. For each holiday, the portion expounds on the type of observance required and the kind of offering. The appointed festival that occupies the most textual space in this Torah portion is the counting of the Omer. In fact, we are in the counting of the Omer right now.
In between Passover and Shavuot are 49 days. Passover marks the Israelite’s escape from slavery in Egypt. Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. But it was a 49-day journey to get from Egypt to Mount Sinai. It took all of those seven weeks for God to ready His people’s hearts and minds for the great gift he had in store for them. When they first left Egypt, they still thought and acted like an enslaved people. When they complained of the lack of food in the desert, they asked Moses, “Wasn’t it better for us in Egypt where we had our basic daily needs of food and water?” Moses had to remind them, “But you were slaves!” God dazzled them with Earth shaking signs, miracles, and revelations.
To be able to think like a free person, one has to actually be a free person. The purpose of counting down the 49 days is to focus on continual spiritual refinement, so that every generation may be deemed as a worthy vessel to hold God’s instructions.